Discover the Difference: STEM Innovator® at St. Theresa Catholic School

by Diocese of Des Moines | March 31, 2021

Ronda McCarthy and Jane Ann Becicka

St. Theresa Catholic School, located at 5810 Cara Carpenter Avenue, proudly announced that faculty members Jane Ann Becicka and Ronda McCarthy have become STEM Innovator® certified teachers. STEM Innovator® certified teachers engage students in solving authentic, community-driven, real-world problems by working in teams and collaborating with community partners.

STEM Innovator®, offered through the University of Iowa's Jacobson Institute, promotes innovationnull and entrepreneurship among K-12 students by applying research-driven curriculum, instruction, and assessments. STEM Innovator® aims to widen the talent pipeline of students prepared for STEM careers and future entrepreneurial pathways (

"Our hope is that by applying the STEM Innovator® curriculum and instructional methods, students at St. Theresa Catholic School will gain additional skills to become college and career ready," said Ellen Stemler, school principal. "We want to give our students every opportunity we can in order to position them for success now and in the future."

While there is no universal definition of STEM education, Nathan & Nilsen (2009) define STEM education as, "an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy."

Since 2011, St. Theresa Catholic School has offered an integrated STEM education that has been recognized locally, nationally, and internationally. Additionally, students at St. Theresa were the first in the state of Iowa to take part in the SeaPerch program which equips students to discover the world of robotics engineering by constructing remotely operated vehicles that travel underwater. The STEM Innovator® certification is among an impressive list of accolades and accomplishments the school has received in recent years. 

St. Theresa Catholic School STEM Program Recognition and Awards:

  • 2011 - Present Awarded STEM Scale-Ups through Governor’s STEM Advisory Council
  • 2012 - Present Presented at STEM Day at the Capitol to discuss and share STEM learning with legislators and lobbyists.
  • 2013 STCS 8th graders researched, designed and built PreK playground utilizing PLTW: Gateway to Technology
  • 2016 Ronda McCarthy was selected to attend the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teacher Academy
  • 2017 Recognized in NSTA Creating a STEM Culture for Teaching and Learning 
  • 2017 Visited by Japanese Research Fellows and Professors studying the impact of STEM on student vocations
  • 2017 Ronda McCarthy was selected to attend Space Academy for Educators
  • 2018 St. Theresa Catholic School was awarded the STEM BEST Award 
  • 2018 First school in the state to receive funding for SeaPerch
  • 2019 First school in the state to participate in National SeaPerch Competition in Maryland
  • 2019 Teacher Ashley Mitchell participated in the STEM Externship Program at the Iowa Air National Guard
  • 2020 Awarded the STEM BEST Enhancement Award of $10,000 to fund Google Expedition Virtual Reality Classroom Set
  • 2020 Ronda McCarthy was honored as the South Central Iowa STEM Hub Teacher of the Year

And why does STEM education matter? STEM-educated students help lead innovation and competitiveness by generating new ideas. These students are also prepared for the jobs of the future. A 2017 student of STEM professions found that "Employment in STEM occupations grew much faster than employment in non-STEM occupations over the last decade (24.4 percent versus 4.0 percent, respectively)," (Noonan, 2017). Regardless of whether or not the student elects to pursue a STEM career, STEM knowledge is applicable to many career paths - generating endless opportunities for students.

At all Diocese of Des Moines Catholic schools, research-based teaching strategies and state-of-the-art technology are available across all grade levels. Desktop computers, laptops, iPads, tablets, interactive whiteboards, and other technology is integrated into the classroom environment or available in the school's STEM lab. Many of our schools offer Makerspace, computer-aided design software, 3D printers, and more to support project-based learning and experiential activities. Additionally, partnerships with local, state and national STEM programs further enhance the STEM experience for our students.

St. Theresa Catholic School serves more than 300 students in grades PK-8 with an education-driven to inspire creative thinking, justice and compassion, and to help students build self-confidence and respect for others. To learn more, For more information on STEM Innovator® visit


Nathan, B. R., & Nilsen, L. (2009).Southwestern Pennsylvania STEM Network long-range plan. Pennsylvania: Southwest Pennsylvania Regional STEM Network.


Noonan, R. (2017). STEM Jobs: 2017 Update. Retrieved March 10, 2021 from

Diocese of Des Moines

The Diocese of Des Moines, created in 1911, serves people over a 12,446 square mile area in the southwestern quadrant of Iowa, including 23 counties.